Yoga for Seniors: Mind and Body Practice Brings Benefits for All Ages

This ancient exercise relieves aches and pains. Here’s how to get started in yoga. For seniors, it's the ideal exercise.

yoga for seniors

Yoga for seniors provides all kinds of benefits that will help you maintain your independence: Balance, strength, and even mental fitness.

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Yoga is a centuries-old mind and body practice that has many practical applications in today’s world. Flexibility, strength, body awareness, and a calmer mind are just a few of yoga’s benefits. It’s fine to start at an older age; yoga, for seniors, can make a difference in maintaining independence. But it’s important to be aware of your strengths and limitations.

“Changes in muscle mass and bone density can affect balance and increase risk for falls, fractures, and muscle tears,” explains physical therapist Helen Setyan, DPT, UCLA Medical Center. “However, this is precisely what yoga can improve when performed safely.”

The benefits of yoga are realized through “poses,” which are specific positions done while standing, sitting, or lying down. Breathing and mind-focusing techniques accompany the physical poses.

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OTHER WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR LIFE

Besides yoga, such practices as tai chi, mindfulness, and simply walking can make a difference in your physical and mental health. See these posts:

Yoga for Seniors: Conscious Conditioning

Today, gyms typically are filled with TV monitors connected to treadmills, elliptical machines, and other cardio equipment, all of them virtually begging you to escape from the supposed boredom of exercise. This is totally opposite from yoga, where the guiding principle is to move with awareness—in other words, to be mindful of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, rather than mindlessly distracting yourself from physical activity.

Yoga asks you to plug in and feel what you’re doing, to engage your body as much as your mind. In so doing, you’ll stay safer and become more cognizant of your personal strengths and limitations. This focus also is very refreshing for the mind and spirit.

“Yoga practice can really help the senior and aging population to work with the changes in life and accept that there is value in slow and mindful movement practices,” Dr. Setyan says.

Finding Your Ideal Class

There are many classes offered online and on demand, and they can be a good way to maintain a home practice. But, going to a class is by far the best way to get started. Look for classes labelled as beginner, restorative, gentle, senior, or chair yoga—they typically emphasize the practice of moving slowly and carefully, and they generally include plenty of instruction on what should be done and what should be avoided.

Dr. Setyan also recommends Iyengar yoga for older adults. “I recommend it because the classes emphasize detail, precision, and alignment through use of props such as belts, blocks, and blankets. These props enable students to do yoga postures correctly, which can significantly minimize the risk of injury or strain.”

Convenience matters, whether it’s yoga for seniors or for the younger crowd. So, look for yoga classes that are near your home or places that you frequent. “Silver Sneakers” yoga classes, offered at many gyms, YMCAs, and community centers, are low-cost classes developed specifically for older adults. Otherwise, classes at studios range from $15 and up. Many studios offer introductory or free first-time classes.

Yoga classes are not a one-size-fits all, nor are the instructors. If there are several choices in your vicinity, explore them all to find the one that feels right for you. Instructors should have several years’ experience, be certified, and ideally have some familiarity working with older adults and/or those with injuries. Introduce yourself to the instructor and let him or her know that you are new.

AMERICA’S YOGA AMBASSADOR

lilias folan

Lilias Folan is known for the impact she’s made in yoga instruction.

Lilias Folan is among the most influential figures in American yoga. Her PBS TV show, “Lilias! Yoga and You,” ran for 20 years and introduced millions of Americans to the practice, which was, when she started, a very new offering in this country.

Folan’s yoga journey began when her doctor told her to get some exercise. She chose yoga. Now in her 70s, she continues to teach and practice what she preaches. You can learn more about her and view her online classes at lilasyoga.com. Like most experienced instructors, her style is a blend of many different yoga traditions.

What to Wear and Bring

If you’re new to yoga, it helps to know what you need. Bring a towel and bottled water to class, and make sure you wear loose clothing (although your top should be fitted enough so that it doesn’t fall forward and get in the way when doing poses such as downward facing dog).

Yoga is typically done barefoot. If you prefer socks, wear a nonslip pair. You can find them online, at supporting goods stores, and at some yoga studios.

Finally, if you have any medical or orthopaedic concerns, do talk with your doctor before you embark on your yoga journey. It doesn’t necessarily mean that yoga is not right for you, but it may be best to get started with a physical therapist who’s knowledgeable and certified to teach yoga.

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